Monday, December 30, 2013

No Longer Could I Serve in the Military

I have never served in the military. However, I've always thought in a positive manner about being a part of the United States' armed forced. It seemed natural to want to support and defend our country. For much of my life it was something I never questioned. I had seen, and still see, many Christians in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, etc. Frankly, it wasn't an issue.

My thoughts have changed radically over the past few years. No longer could I serve in the military at any level or in any position. I realize this is somewhat theoretical in nature; it's not as if recruiters are knocking down my door to get to a 43-year-old. Regardless, I couldn't and wouldn't ever be part of the military. Even if the USA was invaded by another country as part of total war I would not join the military.

I've come to this conclusion after thinking long and hard about Jesus' teachings. Specifically, I've been pondering both what he said about and how he acted toward his enemies. Jesus teaches us much in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:9 Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Some Christians limit the meaning of this verse to only the helping of people reach spiritual peace with God through the gospel; however, in light of what Jesus says later in Matthew 5 this seems like too narrow of an interpretation.

In Matthew 5:38-47 Jesus expands on what he said in 5:9. Our Lord says, "You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Jesus says a lot in those verses. Much of it can be summed up in the startling phrase, "Love your enemies." I believe this is one of Christ's most counter-cultural and counter-world statements. It gives us a view of how radically different the Kingdom of God is from the kingdoms of this world.

One of the primary things the military does is fight against enemies. In light of what Jesus says here, how could I take up arms against enemies of the USA? Can I love someone and shoot him at the same time? I don't see how the two can possibly fit together. Furthermore, I don't understand how I could be part of the support network behind the soldiers. If I'm assisting them in doing their job, which involves killing others, then I'm at least partially responsible for any deaths caused.

Did Jesus actually live out what he said? How did he treat his enemies? Did he even defend himself? The answer is a resounding "No!" Read any of the trial and crucifixion passages from the gospels to see this. For example, Matthew 27:27-31 says, "Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him."

Jesus was living out what was written of him many years before as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:7, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth."

In the end my conclusion regarding military service is quite simple. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. How could I possibly serve in the military when I might be ordered to kill someone in the name of the USA? Killing and loving do not mix. Therefore, I could no longer serve in the military in any capacity whatsoever.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

More Rest on Sundays Since It's Not the Sabbath

Please forgive me if I've written about this previously, but I just cannot get over the irony. Simply put, now that I no longer view Sundays as the Sabbath I get more rest on Sundays.

For most of my life, as a kid and later as an adult, Sundays were busy. We got up, put on our "Sunday best," and "went to church." This included both Sunday School and Worship Service. Then we would usually do the same thing again at night, except this time we didn't have to dress up (not sure why). We were busy for God - or so we thought - on what we considered to be the Sabbath. On what we believed was God's ordained day of rest for us we kept busy all day.

I now realize that Jesus Christ is our Sabbath rest. How freeing this is! We are no longer under Old Covenant regulations and practices. Jesus fulfilled the law so we don't have to. He has also freed us from sin to live restfully in his great grace. Christ is our 24/7 Sabbath rest.

Now Sundays are actually restful. Sometimes we get together with friends, but sometimes we don't. We relax a lot. We don't dress up. We read. We take naps. We watch movies. We play games. Sometimes we stroll around Savannah's historic district or go to the beach. We don't worry about being busy for God. Because of this, we actually rest.

I thank the Lord that his rest is not limited to one day per week. Since the Sabbath never ends, we can truly rest in Christ at all times - even on Sundays.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What If Conservatives Actually Won the Culture War?

Many Christians today are busily fighting the American culture war in support of the conservative agenda. Just watch Fox News for a little while and you will see this to be the case. It's all about the cross of Christ wrapped in the American flag. It's about achieving some sort of "Christian America" through political means.

But what would happen if the conservatives actually won the culture war?

What if gay marriage was completely outlawed?

What if the Ten Commandments were restored to governmental offices?

What if prayer was reintroduced to public schools?

What if everyone started saying "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays"?

What if Republicans won back the presidency and both houses of congress?

What if the Tea Party became even more influential?

What if crosses were restored to government properties?

What if the military continued to get bigger and bigger?

What if Obamacare were repealed?

What if alcohol and cigarettes were prohibited?

What if more and more people began "going to church" again?

What if most Americans truly began to consider this a "Christian nation"?

What would happen if conservatives actually won the culture war? The answer: NOTHING.

Nothing would happen because all the things listed above are simply outward acts. They reveal nothing about a change of heart. They stem from a political agenda. Jesus Christ had no earthly political agenda. He certainly wasn't a Republican or Democrat. He wouldn't fit either party.

Jesus Christ came to change the hearts of men and women. Heart change leads to behavioral change, but it leads to a heart of love. It leads to caring for others. It changes society through one loving act at a time. It doesn't change it through some sort of conservative political agenda.

Let me say it again: if the conservatives won the culture war nothing would really change. At least nothing pertaining to the Kingdom of God would change (which is the only Kingdom that really matters). Some things might look different on the outside, but in the end nothing would change our greatest problem: the wickedness of the human heart.

I implore my brothers and sisters in Christ to love others sacrificially for the cause of Christ. Let's show Jesus' love through acts of selfless service. This is how society is truly changed. Let's stop wasting our time on conservative politics and the culture war. It amounts to nothing.

(Addendum: It's quite clear that I left abortion off the above culture war list. Abortion, I believe, supersedes the conservative political agenda because it deals with life and death issues and is an utter abomination. It is the one issue where I believe political means should be used to change, if possible, governmental policies. If some say I am being inconsistent for focusing on this one issue, then so be it.)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Jesus Is Not the Bible. The Bible Is Not Jesus.

We all know, of course, that Jesus Christ and the bible are not the same thing. Jesus Christ is God the Son, one member of the Trinity. He purchased our salvation. He is worthy of our worship. The bible is none of these things. The bible is the written revelation that God has chosen to give us. It is a great treasure that tells us much about God and his creation. We even learn a lot about ourselves as we read it. Despite this, the scriptures are not worthy of worship because, obviously, they are not God.

We all know these things.

Despite this knowledge, there seems to be much confusion among a great number of American evangelicals about the difference between Christ and the bible. Specifically, they treat knowing the bible as if it is knowing Christ. If you spend any time looking through the Christian blog world you will see this. There is an inordinate emphasis on the importance of knowing the bible. This suggests that those who have the most knowledge of biblical content are also those who know Jesus the best. This is simply false.

A certain mount of basic knowledge is required to know Jesus. However, beyond that point discipleship is more about obedience than about head knowledge. I'm not trying to create some sort of false dichotomy. It is good to both obey Christ and know scripture. However, obedience is far more important.

Additionally, knowing Jesus is about a relationship. There is a moment-by-moment knowing him and walking with him. A deep knowledge of the bible is not required for a deep knowledge of Christ. In my life I've come into contact with Christians who seem to know Jesus better than I do even though I know the bible better than they. On the flip side, I've also met people who know tons of bible but hardly seem to know Jesus at all.

I write this post simply to exhort my brothers and sisters in Christ not to confuse knowing scripture with knowing the bible. Gaining knowledge of the scriptures is not an end; rather, it is a means to an end. That end is knowing Jesus better.

We can come to know Jesus better through reading the bible. But we also grow closer to him through prayer, through mutual edification, through service to others, and through suffering for him.

The bible is wonderful, but it is not Jesus. Jesus is the key to understanding the bible, but he is not the bible.

Let's not confuse the two. Knowing Jesus and knowing about Jesus (through scripture) are not the same.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

As for Christmas, Live and Let Live

Arguing over "the real meaning of Christmas" has got to be one of the most foolish things we Christians do.

Through the years I've been all over the spectrum on the meaning of Christmas issue. I began with the typical American Christian practice of mixing Christian and secular traditions. I happily enjoyed celebrating both Jesus' birth and Santa Claus' arrival.

Then I went to seminary and became a big time "JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON" guy. I think we even had a car magnet that said something to that effect.

Sometime after seminary I found out about Saturnalia. This showed me that Christmas, at least to some extent, had pagan roots. While Christ's incarnation is certainly worth cherishing, the actual Christmas holiday was not exactly that. It's all at least a bit confusing.

About the time I learned about Saturnalia, I also began reading my bible to see how the early church lived and functioned. This led, as has been well chronicled here, to my resignation from professional pastoring. It also showed me that the early church was not concerned with any sort of festival focusing on the birth of Christ. Rather, the early church looked much more intently at the death and resurrection.

In light of all this there was a short period of time when I didn't think Christians should celebrate Christmas at all. In particular, the pagan roots and capitalistic excess bothered me (the excess still does).

Now I've finally come to a new point as far as Christmas is concerned. My view is let's simply live and let live. As Christians, we all love Jesus and want to live for Him. Christ wants and demands that His church be united. It's a great victory for Satan when we fight over issues as silly as "the real meaning of Christmas."

We have much more important things to be concerned about. These include building one another up in Christ, proclaiming the good news to the lost, and caring for the needs of the poor, sick, and needy. These are all things we can easily unite around.

Therefore, feel free to celebrate Christmas in just about any way you want. If it's just about Jesus' birth, then go ahead. If it's only centered on Santa, feel free. If, like most folks, it is a mix, then enjoy it. If you decide to abstain from the whole thing, then be my guest.

Let's just not argue/fight about it. Let's also avoid passing judgment upon one another.

As for Christmas, live and let live.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Only Two Kinds of People

"There are two kinds of people in this world: followers of Jesus Christ and potential followers of Jesus Christ."

A few minutes ago it struck me that only two kinds of people really exist. I posted it on Facebook, but I wanted to write about it briefly here, too. The two kinds are those who are in Christ and those who are potentially in Him.

The greatest difference between people is not skin color, socioeconomic status, language, geographical location, political party, favorite sports team, or even whether or not they like bacon. The largest difference carries significance far beyond all the others. That difference is one of eternal salvation.

Our tendency is often to think in terms of "Christian" and "non-Christian." I think it is more helpful to think about people as those who know Jesus and those who potentially know Jesus. This is not simply a matter of semantics. Rather, the words we use often hint at our frame of reference and even shape it to some degree. When we think of unbelievers as potential believers, it also helps us think about how we can influence them positively for Christ.

I believe that God predestines all he chooses to salvation. I also believe that the gospel message is for anyone and everyone; all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Exactly how these truths fit together is beyond my small brain. Therefore, I want to remember and I encourage you to remember that anyone who doesn't know Jesus Christ as Lord has the great potential to do so.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Five More Great Things About Running

On Saturday I ran in the Savannah River Bridge Run. This race acted as motivation to help me get back in some semblance of shape. Although I felt awful at the very end of the race, the experience as a whole was very positive. I blogged about it in my previous post Running, Beer, and Fellowship.

Running is a great way to exercise. Racing is a blast and motivates. I highly encourage any and all of you to take up running if you are physically able to do so. Here's a short list of five great things about running:

1) Almost anyone can run.

The vast majority of us know how to run. As long as we don't have some sort of significant physical problem, we can get our legs and lungs going. It's not complicated.

2) You can run almost anywhere.

I walk out my front door and I'm immediately able to run. I don't have to travel to a gym, pool, or track somewhere. This saves on time, effort, and expense.

3) Running doesn't require specific skills.

Almost all children learn how to run at a very young age. We know how to do it for the rest of our lives. Running doesn't require lots of practice on specific skills such as dribbling a basketball, putting a golf ball, or balancing on skis.

4) You feel great after you run.

Sometimes I feel bad when I run. However, a few minutes after I finish I feel great. It has something to do with endorphins racing around inside the body. This feeling lasts for several hours. It's sort of like a natural drug with no negative effects.

5) When you race you get to compete against everyone else.

One reason racing is fun is because everyone does it together. This past Saturday I raced against men, women, and kids. Runners ranged from beginners to experts. In how many other sports do you get to compete against truly elite athletes? In running you do (although you probably only briefly see them at the start and then at the awards ceremony). It is a hoot to run alongside everybody.

Running is terrific. If I haven't convinced you, then ask my good friends and fellow bloggers Alan Knox and Bobby Auner. They'll tell you the same thing.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Running, Beer, and Fellowship

Today I ran in the Savannah River Bridge Run. It was my first race in several years and I'm pleased with how I did (finished the 5K in 26-27 minutes and didn't collapse). My employer (JCB) was kind enough to pay the registration fee and provide T-shirts (see photo above). About ten of us from JCB ran in the race. Some posed for the above photo. That's me on the far right looking like a giant; everyone else is actually short.

As a bonus, several of the runners wore silly costumes. I saw Elvis Presley before the race. Near the end of the race I ran past a guy dressed as an elf; shortly after this a Gene Simmons impersonator ran past me. He was dressed in full KISS gear and was even carrying an American flag.

After the race our JCB team hung out for a while in the finishing area. There was music, food, soda, and beer. Everyone else in the group grabbed a beer. So did I. Not only did I grab it, I also drank the whole thing. My purpose in this was not for the taste (it was actually a sort of gross light beer). Rather, I wanted to spend time with some co-workers and do what they were doing. If I hadn't had a beer things would have been awkward. By having a drink with them, we were all able to just stand around and fellowship for a while. I hardly knew any of them prior to the race. It was a great opportunity to start some relationships.

Just a few years ago I probably would not have had a beer. I would have viewed my not drinking as some sort of righteous stand for Christ. What a bunch of poppycock. Part of the reason some non-Christians are turned off to Christianity is because some Christians just act so weird. Let me make this clear: there is nothing wrong with Christians drinking alcohol. The sin comes when drunkenness begins.

As followers of Jesus, we need to do whatever it takes to build relationships. It is often through these relationships that people are willing to hear about Jesus Christ in a meaningful way for the first time. I'm not suggesting that relationships are a means to an end; they are an end in themselves. However, they also offer tremendous opportunity for sharing about Christ.

So, I ran a race, drank a beer, and had some nice fellowship. It made for a good morning.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Kingdom is Not About Guns, Republicans, and Limited Government

I cannot adequately express how tired I am of Christians fighting the culture wars. It is exhausting to hear about Christians wrapping the cross in the flag, rallying for the Republican Party, and demanding their "rights." By listening to some, you'd think that that the right to bear arms is a gospel issue. You'd also think that the Democratic Party is the spawn of Satan himself. I'm disgusted by the amount of energy and emotion so many believers spend on these sorts of issues.

The Kingdom of God is not about secular politics. It is not concerned with conservatism, limited government, military engagement, taxes, etc. Rather, the Kingdom of God is concerned with us glorifying God through living as his children. God desires changed lives not through governmental influence but through the power of the gospel. Real change for the better in society does not come through decision making in Washington, but rather through the Holy Spirit changing hearts.

When we let the scriptures, and not politics, inform the way we live, we see something far different from the American dream. We see the people of God as people who give up their rights. We see people who expect persecution. We see people who understand that they are resident aliens who temporarily live in a strange land. We see people who understand that their citizenship is in heaven. We see people who never feel too comfortable in this society because its values are so different from that of the Kingdom.

Let's spend our time and energy where it really matters: on Kingdom priority issues. What are those issues? I'm talking about caring for the poor, sick, and needy. I referring to building up our brothers and sisters in Christ (and being built up by them). I'm talking about boldly and lovingly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. I'm pointing to living holy lives in the midst of a wicked world.

God's Kingdom is not of this world. We must remember God's priorities and live according to them.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Kindness is Key

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23)

Kindness is something that doesn't get much attention in Christian discussions. I'm not sure why this is the case. When we look at the life of Jesus Christ, we see the kindest man who ever lived. When Jesus dealt with the poor and needy, he kindly took care of their needs and proclaimed the Kingdom. When Jesus confronted the religious leaders, he spoke the truth to them that they needed to hear (the leaders did not view this as kind, but Jesus did have their best interests in mind). During the three years with his disciples, Jesus taught and showed them more than they ever could have imagined.

We see in the above passage from Galatians that kindness is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, if we are in the Spirit, we will display kindness in our lives. This should be a natural outflowing of a life transformed by Christ.

When I meet someone for the first time, the signal that they are a Christian is usually their kindness. I don't ask them their theological positions. Rather, I see a nice person who is looking out for the needs of others. I see someone who listens. I see a person who puts other people before self.

Just because a person is kind does not mean that he is a Christian. We've all met kind unbelievers. However, it is a good clue.

I'm not suggesting that we take part in some sort of random-acts-of-kindness nonsense. Rather, we should take a look at our own hearts. Are we truly kind people?

The church would be much more positive in nature if we would all focus on being kind to one another. The world would also take notice if we'd be kinder to them.

I don't mean for this post to seem sappy. Rather, I'm pointing directly to what our lives look like. Do they match up with what we read in Galatians 5:22-23? When others look at us, do they see kindness?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Every Day Remember That You Are a Priest

I Peter 2:4-10 tells us that everyone who is in Christ is also a priest:

"As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.'

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,' and 'A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.'

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

No Shave November

Yesterday Alice (my wonderful wife) and I, along with a bunch of other family members, ate a scrumptious lunch at Puerto Rico Restaurant here in Savannah. While there someone snapped this photo of us; it actually came out pretty well. As you can see, I'm taking part in No Shave November. This year I'm just growing the beard for something sort of random to do. Next year I may do more to raise cancer awareness.

The beard is likely to come off in a few days. I threatened my family with just keeping the mustache, but they made it clear that it was not a good idea. A Fu Manchu might be fun though.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Getting the (Church) Recipe Right or Wrong

On Thanksgiving day I plan to eat some delicious food. For your sake I hope you are, too.

I admit up front that I will probably have little to do with the cooking. I can do supportive stuff such as taking out the trash, setting the table, filling glasses with ice, etc. However, when it comes to the actual cooking, I'm staying out. I can trust my wife, sister-in-law, and mother with those tasks. They have mad cooking skills.

I can trust that they will get the recipe right. They're not going to mess up the turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, pies, etc. They'll add the ingredients that should be in there, but won't mess it up by adding what shouldn't. Every year it is good.

As it is important to get the Thanksgiving recipes right, it is the same with the church. When we follow the recipe we've been given, things tend to go well. When we deviate from that recipe, things tend to go downhill fast.

Many Christians act as if we have no church recipe to follow. This is odd. The same people who look to the bible for instruction about gospel truths ignore much of what the bible has to say about church life. They sort of make things up as they go. This is how churches end up with things like youth groups and puppet ministries.

When we search the scriptures for its church recipe we find treasure after treasure about how we should live. If we are open to what we see there, the Holy Spirit will testify to its truths. We read about how we should treat and interact one another, why we should gather, what leadership looks like, how we ought to interact with unbelievers, what we should do with money, etc. The bible is simply full of information that gives us God's recipe for church life. Problems begin whenever we deviate from that recipe.

Let's take a Thanksgiving example: the turkey is excellent when the recipe is followed. However, problems will arise quickly if the cook adds something that is not needed like chocolate. Chocolate in other circumstances is great, but not on the turkey.

When extra ingredients are added to church life, even with good intentions, the results are almost always problematic. When we stick with the recipe, much more positive will come from it. God is the ultimate chef. He not only created the recipe, but he created the church. If we'll simply follow His plan the results will be good.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The 4 Things You Need to Correctly Understand the Bible

I think we all agree that it is critical to understand the bible correctly. The original authors meant something when they wrote. It's our duty to comprehend what they were saying then and how that applies today. This is not always an easy task, but it is usually an enjoyable one.

Many Christians do not believe they have the ability to correctly understand the bible. I'd like to squash that belief. In order to understand the bible you only need four things. There are also many things that you do not need. Some of the things you do not need can be beneficial, but they are not necessary.

You do not need a seminary degree, ordination, overseas missionary service, thirty bibles, fancy bible software, Greek, or Hebrew. You also don't need experience as a paid pastor, Sunday School teacher, or Deacon. You certainly don't need to have written a book.

What, then, are the four things you need to correctly understand scripture? Here they are:

1. Your brain
2. The Holy Spirit
3. A good translation of the bible
4. Other believers

First, you need your brain. This is because you can, in fact, understand the bible. If you know Jesus Christ, then you are a part of the priesthood of all believers. Also, you have the Holy Spirit's assistance. He will not fail you. Our God is not a god of confusion. He wants you to correctly understand His book. The Spirit will help with this. Since you probably don't read both Greek and Hebrew at an expert level, you need a good translation. One is enough. Finally, you need other believers. As a group you can and should discuss the meaning of biblical texts. Interpretation is best done in community.

That's all you need. Four simple things. You can do it.

Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years Later - C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis, like John Kennedy, died fifty years ago today. I'm thankful to God for Lewis' writings; he is one of my favorite authors. If I had a Top Ten list of books that are most precious to me, Mere Christianity would make the list. Other Lewis classics that I love are The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis is one of the clearest Christian thinkers I have ever read. He was a great gift by God to the church.

Not only Lewis and Kennedy, but also Aldous Huxley died fifty years ago today. A couple of years ago I read a fictional account of a conversation between the three men after death. It's a fascinating book that I recommend. The title is Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

50 Years Later - J.F.K.

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated fifty years ago tomorrow. It was a defining day for many people of that generation. I, however, don't remember where I was when the shooting occurred. That's because I wasn't born until seven years later. I'm told that for many people this assassination marked a loss of innocence for our country. It certainly was the first tragedy in a decade full of them for this nation.

Two events stand out in my lifetime as "you-remember-where-you-were-when-you-heard-about-it" moments. In 1986 I was standing in the hallway of my high school when someone told me that the Space Shuttle Challenger had blown up on takeoff. As a ninth grader it was difficult to believe.

Fast forward fifteen years to a day almost all of us remember - September 11, 2001. I was working as a school psychologist in a public school system here in Georgia at the time. Someone opened my office door and told me that some terrorists had flown planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. We quickly set up some TV's in the main school office. I remember watching live coverage as the towers collapsed. It was surreal.

When terrible things like this occur it leaves people asking for answers. Secular society tries to come up with reasons to feel better. The false answers usually amount to something like, "We can do it if we stick together!" That's what all the USA Pride bumper stickers amounted to after 9/11.

By the grace of God, we know the only answer that has any substance when these national tragedies occur. This answer is not just a fact; the answer is a person: Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus and his gospel are the only real hope this world has. As his followers, we have been exceedingly blessed to know Who carries us during dark times.

Every fifteen to twenty-five years something absolutely terrible happens in this country. My guess is that before too long something else will happen. I'm not fatalistic about it. I know God is in control. However, because we live in a fallen, sin-ravaged world, terrible things happen. We don't know when or what will occur, but we can be fairly certain it will. The challenge for us as Jesus-followers is to be ready to give an answer when the time comes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Women in the New Testament Summary

Women are critical to the life of the church. Throughout much of church history women have been treated as second-class citizens. This ought not be. When we look in the New Testament we see example after example of women being faithful, obedient servants. This should inform how we treat our sisters in Christ today. Read any of the posts in this series below:

The Church and Its Amazing Women
Women and Gatherings
Mary Magdelene
Mary and Martha
Euodia and Syntyche
Many Other Faithful Ones

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I Absolutely Love This Hymn!

Many Other Faithful Ones

There is not enough time to write about all the faithful women we meet in the New Testament. However, a few more come to mind that I'd like to point out:


"Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity." (Acts 9:36)

Mary, John Mark's mother

"When Peter came to himself, he said, 'Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.' When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying." (Acts 12:11-12)

Philip's Daughters

"On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied." (Acts 21:8-9)


I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers." (I Corinthians 1:10-11)


"Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house." (Colossians 4:15)

The consistent theme in the New Testament is one of women who were faithful, obedient servants of Christ. This does not occur in some sort of vacuum. Rather, the women of the New Testament follow in the footsteps of the faithful ladies who preceded them in the Old Testament. Although it is not the purpose of this blog series, let's never forget women like Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Zipporah, Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Abigail, Esther, and many more.

Monday, November 18, 2013

An Interesting Article on Small Groups

"Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups"

Well, that is certainly a title that will get people's attention. I encourage you to click on over to the post and see what you think. I didn't bother engaging in the comments section; I figured they would be pretty predictable. However, the article itself is well worth the time.

Euodia and Syntyche


Lest we think everything was perfect with all the women in the early church, we must remember Euodia and Syntyche. These two ladies appear to have been at the center of the disunity that was harming the Philippian church.

Paul first visited Philippi on his second journey. It's where he met Lydia and the jailer; it's also where Paul planted a church. This church is specifically mentioned as gathering in Lydia's home to greet Paul and Silas before they departed.

Several years after this, when Paul is under house arrest in Rome, he wrote an epistle to his friends back in Philippi. The primary themes of this letter are joy and unity. Paul took great joy in his brothers and sisters in Philippi. He was also greatly concerned about the disunity he'd heard about within their church family.

In chapter 2:1-4, Paul provides a formula for unity. That formula is humility. It is putting others before self. Immediately following, in 2:5-11, Paul points to the ultimate example of humility: Jesus Christ. In this Christ Hymn, we see Christ display humility through his incarnation, servanthood, and crucifixion. Paul's hope is that the Philippian Christians will begin to show more unity through humility.

In chapter four we finally meet Euodia and Syntyche. Paul writes:

"I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." (Philippians 4:2-3)

Three things are clear from these two verses. First, Euodia and Syntyche are followers of Christ; they don't need evangelizing. Second, they are in disagreement over something. Third, they need assistance from the broader church family to help them agree. Additionally, this must have been a significant disagreement in order for Paul to have written a letter to address it.

Quite simply, these two ladies were arguing and it was hurting the church. Paul wants them to knock it off. They'll accomplish this by thinking of others before themselves. Their brothers and sisters need to get involved. This is a body issue.

This is real world church life. We all know that disunity is a terrible thing in the life of any church family. We've probably all been a part of it. It's a nightmare.

I mention Euodia and Syntyche to bring some balance to this series on women in the New Testament. Like men, women are not perfect. Many ladies we encounter in scripture are described in a very positive fashion. However, there were also those who aren't. Euodia and Syntyche show us that Christians can harm the church. We're reminded by Paul that we all have responsibility to get involved when disunity strikes.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Priscilla and Aquila are a Christian couple who are, appropriately, always mentioned together. They are friends of Paul who we meet in Acts chapter 18:

"After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade." (Acts 18:1-3)

"After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. But on taking leave of them he said, 'I will return to you if God wills,' and he set sail from Ephesus." (Acts 18:18-21)

The most interesting passage involving Aquila and Priscilla occurs later in Acts 18. In verses 24-28 we see them come into contact with Apollos. We can learn much from how this couple helped Apollos mature in Christ:

"Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus." (Acts 18:24-28)

Apollos was a gifted speaker who knew the scriptures well. However, his knowledge of Christ was limited. It's difficult to determine from these verses whether or not Apollos even knew of Jesus. Since we're told that "he knew only the baptism of John," it is likely that he did not. I love how Aquila and Priscilla handle the situation. Showing wisdom, they pull Apollos to the side and mentor him together, out of the public eye. Specifically, Luke tells us that they "explained to him the way of God more accurately." We immediately read the outcome of this encounter. Apollos, now with an accurate understanding and knowledge of Christ, traveled onward both edifying the church and proclaiming the gospel.

Apollos could never have done these things apart from Priscilla and Aquila's help. They were living out Colossians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." They were both acting much like elders in the church.

Aquila and Priscilla remained Paul's friends and helpers for many years. Paul mentions them in three different letters that were penned several years after these events in Acts had taken place:

"The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord." (I Corinthians 16:19)

"Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia." (Romans 16:3-5)

"Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus." (II Timothy 4:19)

When we think of Priscilla, we should think of an obedient, faithful servant of Christ. Additionally, she and Aquila are an example of a great team: a couple that works together for the kingdom. And yes, Priscilla was involved in teaching Apollos. If you can't handle this example of a woman teaching a man, then you'd better white out that section of your bible.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


I love the books of Acts and Philippians. Therefore, Acts chapter 16 is one of my favorites in the entire bible. Near the beginning of the chapter we read about Paul's vision of the Macedonian man calling to him. Toward the conclusion of the chapter we see the fascinating account of the Philippian jailer's conversion.

Sandwiched in between the above two passages we meet Lydia. Although we don't have much information, we see that she was an impressive lady:

"So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, 'If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.' And she prevailed upon us." (Acts 16:11-15)

Paul usually visited a synagogue on the Sabbath. It appears that Philippi lacked one. Therefore, Paul and his traveling team went down to the river (Luke was present at this time; thus the "we" statements). The men began talking with the women they found there. Lydia, one of these women, is described as "a worshiper of God." This indicates that although she was likely a Gentile, she knew and followed the God revealed in the Old Testament. She was, therefore, ready to hear and understand the gospel proclaimed by Paul. In one of my favorite statements in all of scripture, Luke tells us that "The Lord opened her heart." It appears that Lydia immediately accepted what Paul said as true. She showed obedience by being baptized, along with others, and then invited the group to stay at her home.

Shortly after the above account, Paul and Silas were tossed in prison. God caused an earthquake, the jail doors flew open, and the Philippian jailer almost committed harikari. However, Paul shouted out in time, and shortly afterward the jailer came to Christ. Later in the passage Paul and Silas revisited Lydia. The final verse in the chapter tells us:

"So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed." (Acts 16:40)

Something interesting is happening here. It appears that the very new church in Philippi is meeting, at least on this occasion, in Lydia's house. Notice that the "brothers" are mentioned. This is a typical way of referring to the church. It's also significant that the purpose of the meeting was encouragement.

As we look at Lydia in this passage, we see a woman of faith, of obedience, and of service. This should not surprise us. Most of the ladies highlighted in the pages of the New Testament can be described in this way. Like our Christian sisters today, they are of deep importance to the church.

Friday, November 15, 2013


Phoebe is yet another faithful, female servant of Christ who we meet in the New Testament. I could spend a few paragraphs writing about her, but there's no point. My good friend Alan Knox has already beaten me to it. I encourage you to click over to Alan's excellent post about the Phabulous Phoebe.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha of Bethany are best known for this passage:

"Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.' But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.' " (Luke 10:38-42)

Despite the above contrast between these sisters of Bethany, other passages show that they had something in common: they were faithful followers and servants of Jesus Christ. It appears that their home was a place Jesus stayed fairly often (Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem). Based on the language from the Lazarus dying-and-rising passage, we see that they knew Jesus well, trusted in him, and loved him:

"Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha said to him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?' She said to him, 'Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.' " (John 11:21-27)

"Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, 'Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.' When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to him, 'Lord, come and see.' Jesus wept. So the Jews said, 'See how he loved him!' But some of them said, 'Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?' " (John 11:32-37)

"Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, 'Take away the stone.' Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, 'Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.' Jesus said to her, 'Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?' So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, 'Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.' When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out.' The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, 'Unbind him, and let him go.' " (John 11:38-44)

Later in the book of John we again see the sisters' devotion to Christ:

"Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 'Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?' He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, 'Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.' " (John 12:1-8)

Mary and Martha were certainly two separate people. However, we make a mistake if our focus is what makes them different. Better is to remember what they have in common. Like Mary, Anna, and Mary Magdelene, these two sisters showed themselves to be faithful servants of Christ.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mary Magdelene

Much has been written about Mary Magdelene through the centuries. Much of it is rubbish. When we let scripture and not tradition drive what we believe, we see a faithful servant of Christ. In some ways, Mary Magdelene is portrayed as the ideal follower of Jesus. She is with him throughout his ministry, is present at the cross, is present at the tomb, is the first to witness the risen Christ, and proclaims the resurrection to, ironically, the male disciples.

We are first introduced to Mary in Luke chapter 8. We see that Jesus rescued her from demonic control. Mary was one of the disciples who traveled around with him, supporting his ministry financially:

"Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means." (Luke 8:1-3)

Mary was one of the women at the crucifixion:

"There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee." (Matthew 27:55-56)

Mary was present at Jesus' burial:

"When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb." (Matthew 27:57-61)

Mary was there for Christ's resurrection, was the first to see him, and was the first to proclaim it:

"Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.' So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, 'Greetings!' And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.' " (Matthew 28:1-10)

"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' She said to them, 'They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.' Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?' Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.' Jesus said to her, 'Mary.' She turned and said to him in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." ' Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord' — and that he had said these things to her." (John 20:11-18)

Quite simply, Mary Magdelene wanted to be with Jesus wherever he was. She never fled, but sought him out. She loved Jesus, worshiped him, and told others about him. Although we do not know a great deal about her, we can learn much from her. She was yet another faithful female servant of Christ that we see in the New Testament.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


(I apologize for the distracting nature of the above graphic, but I decided to use it simply because it spins.)

Anna is a fascinating woman who we don't know much about; she's only mentioned in one short bible passage. The context is Joseph and Mary presenting Jesus at the temple. Simeon has just seen Jesus and praised God for allowing him to look upon the promised Christ. Then, in Luke 2:36-38, we read the following:

"And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem."

In just a few verses we see Anna's faithfulness to God and service to his people. We read specifically that:

-Anna was a prophetess.
-Anna worshiped with fasting and prayers.
-Anna worshiped ceaselessly.
-Anna proclaimed God's faithfulness to his people.

It's difficult to determine exactly what it means that Anna was a prophetess. However, we can assume that she at least faithfully spoke words of truth to the people based on what had been revealed in the Old Testament. Since she was elderly, it is likely that the people of Israel sought her out for her wisdom. She carried on this ministry without pause. It's an amazing statement that "she did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day." As part of her prophetic gifting, God showed her (similar to Simeon) that this baby was the Messiah. Anna understood this, thanked God for it, and told others about it. We know this because Luke specifically mentions "the redemption of Jerusalem," which is another way of referring to God's rescue of his people through the Messiah.

Anna was a faithful follower of God who obediently carried out service to his people. This is the continuing theme we see among many of the women who are highlighted in the pages of the New Testament.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Let's begin with the mother of our Lord. She was truly an amazing woman.

Mary's obedience and service stand out from the first time we meet her. She was, of course, not perfect. However, she consistently showed herself to be a faithful follower of God's very unique plan for her life.

We meet Mary in Luke chapter 1 when Gabriel tells her that she will be mother to the son of God. I love Mary's response to the difficult-to-believe situation. She says, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

Mary's view of God may be best summed up in the Magnificat. At the beginning of the poem/song Mary says, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name."

Prior to Jesus' death and resurrection, Mary did not understand his full significance (see here and here). However, she knew that he had power and position beyond that of any normal person. Her words to Jesus at the wedding in Cana show this.

She also undoubtedly suffered various forms of scorn and persecution during her life due to the circumstances surrounding Christ's conception and birth. This is one example.

Mary was faithful for the entire life of Jesus. She was present at the cross, even when most of the disciples scattered. Mary was also part of the early church in Acts. The final mention we have of her occurs in Acts 1:12-14, "Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers."

Within the church today we tend to downplay Mary's significance. This may be a reaction against Roman Catholic faulty views of Mary. Regardless, the way we think about Mary ought to be driven by what we see in scripture.

From beginning to end, Mary's life can be described as one of obedient, faithful service. If we could talk with her today, Mary would in no way want us to elevate her. Based on her humility we see in the bible, we can surmise that she would accurately point our attention to her son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mary is one of several ladies who stand out as wonderful examples to us in the New Testament. She reminds us that the church is full of amazing women.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Women and Gatherings

Before I begin looking at specific women in the New Testament, I'd like to say a quick word about church gatherings. To put it bluntly, simple gatherings provide women the opportunity to be involved as the Holy Spirit leads. While simple gatherings may take different forms, they generally allow freedom to speak as led by the Spirit and in line with scriptural parameters. No one present, men or women, is confined by the planned liturgy and ceremony of worship services.

When church meetings become ceremonial in nature, then only those considered experts get to speak much at all. These are usually the salaried clergy. When they dominate the gathering, most of the people present are silent (except when singing). Since most of the clergy are males, it is quite possible that no woman will speak at all during a worship service.

Simple gatherings offer much opportunity for mutual edification. Both men and women can and should be involved in this. The ladies are not artificially limited by man's traditions. Instead, the Holy Spirit can lead as He sees fit.

The church desperately needs its women. Gatherings must give the women every opportunity to use their spiritual gifts to glorify God through body edification. This is another example of simple being best.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Church and Its Amazing Women

From my earliest memories I can recall "going to church." As a kid, it was always the ladies who took care of me. They taught me Sunday School, gave me snacks, played games with me, etc. As I grew older, I continued to see much of the actual service in the church performed by the ladies. When someone was sick, the ladies brought the food. When someone was dying, it was usually the women who came by to visit. When a task needed done, the females in the body stepped up.

From what I could see, the ladies carried more than their fair share of the burden of serving others. However, when I attended worship services, it was the men who took the lead role. Men preached. Men led the singing. Men took up the offering. Men prayed. While the women served in the background, the men took center stage. It should not be so.

Paul tells us clearly in I Corinthians 12 that every member of the body is critical to the health of the church. No one member is more important than any other. And yet, women have been relegated to the background for much of the life of the church. It's not right. We should recognize and appreciate the ladies in the body for the work they do. As a man, I need to be certain that I don't make the women feel like second-class citizens in the church. I realize that men and women have different, complementary roles to play. However, this doesn't suggest for a second that either role is more important than the other. Simply put, women matter in the life of the church.

I do not write this post for reasons of political correctness (I couldn't care less about that). I don't write it out of some sort of latent guilt feelings. Rather, I write it because the women in the church are absolutely critical to the life and health of the body. We should recognize them as such. Regardless of where we fall on the institutional-organic spectrum of church life, let's make sure the ladies know how important and cherished they are.

In light of this, I'm going to write a series of short posts highlighting some of the women in the New Testament church. Again and again, we read of their exemplary service to the New Covenant community. As the women served back then, they continue to serve today. The church would not function without them. We men must ensure that our sisters in Christ know how important they are to the church family as a whole.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Own Personal Reformation Day

Three years ago today was my final day as a professional pastor. I still find it somewhat ironic that my last day in that capacity falls on Reformation Day. I didn't plan it that way, but I'm glad it happened.

Reformation Day, of course, celebrates in particular the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany. It's also a day to celebrate the Reformation in general.

My own reaction to the Protestant Reformation is a mixed one. On the one hand, I'm thrilled that the Reformers were willing to take a stand for the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was a dangerous time that required much courage in their part. We owe much to them. On the other hand, I can't get past the thought that the Reformation didn't go far enough. While the Reformers did much to promote a biblical understanding of salvation, they did not do so for the church. The Reformation model of church life remains very similar to that of Roman Catholicism.

Regarding the church, I'm sort of a protester against at least some Protestant ideas. That should be obvious from reading this blog. However, I don't want to be all about protesting. Despite its faults, there is still a great deal of good that stems from churches that function according to the Protestant model.

My resignation signals a bit of reform in my life. It points to a time when God opened my eyes to what his church can be. At the most basic level, I read in the bible about what the church looked like. I saw the apostles, as part of the early church, giving approval to certain church forms and practices. The Holy Spirit showed me that God has given us a plan for church life. This unavoidably led to my resignation.

I imagine you have had moments like this. I'm guessing that God has from time to time brought about reform in your life when it comes to the church. This probably looks different from person to person, but in the end it comes from the Spirit's conviction. You may not have had a personal Reformation Day, but you likely have had times of reform in your life.

The main reason my last day as a salaried pastor was October 31st was because the local church asked me to stay that long. I actually announced my resignation in mid-September. They asked me to remain to help with some of the transition. I decided to stay another month and a half because I loved them and wanted to serve them as best I could. I'm happy to say that our family departed on good terms with the church body.

Each year as October 31st rolls around I'm reminded of God's great grace in our lives. He gradually reveals to us what his plans are. It marks a crossing of the Rubicon for me. After all, once you resign from being a pastor because you can't find any biblical evidence for it (and tell the church this), it's not likely that any other church will hire you at a later date.

Do you have a personal Reformation day, week, month, year, moment, etc.? I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Christians Should Not Fly This Flag

I live in the South of the U.S.A. My home (Savannah, GA) is a beautiful city with many positives. However, one negative is that some folks who live here have never gotten over the South losing the civil war to the North. Some of these people choose to voice their displeasure by flying the Confederate Battle Flag (see above) at their homes, on their cars (bumper stickers), on their T-shirts, etc. The excuse I often hear is that, for them, this flag stands for Southern heritage.

The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensures that people can fly this flag basically wherever they want to. It is considered a form of free speech. Some take full advantage of this.

The problem with this flag is that for many Americans it stands for something far different than Southern Heritage. To many American blacks it is a reminder that their ancestors were kept in slavery for all their lives. To them it is a sign of hatred and inhumanity.

I'm not surprised that secularists cannot agree on what to do and think about this flag. Satan loves to cause hardship and strife in people's lives. Since he controls the minds of those apart from Christ, the arguments and angst will continue over the Confederate Battle flag.

I'm not a politically correct guy. Anyone who knows me will testify to this. However, my view on this issue happens to fall in line with political correctness. I firmly do not believe that Christians should fly this flag in any way, shape, or form.

The reason I believe this is that the flag is so incredibly offensive to many people. Blacks compose anywhere from 12-14% of the U.S. population. That's a large number of people.

Those who fly this flag say they have the right to do so. At a political level they do. However, we Christians live by a different standard. We are called upon to surrender our rights for the sake of the gospel. The apostle Paul discusses this in detail in I Corinthians chapters 8-9. In I Cor. 9:12 Paul writes, "Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ." The context of these chapters is food sacrificed to idols and financial support for church planters. However, the general principle is clear. We should do nothing that hinders the proclamation of the gospel.

Let's return to the Confederate Battle flag. Why would any Christian fly it? Because it offends so many people, it could easily get in the way of any sort of gospel proclamation to those offended. That is enough of a reason to jettison any connection with this particular flag.

When we moved Georgia seventeen years ago my wife Alice and I were both employed in the public school system. The high school she worked at had as its mascot a confederate soldier (no joke). At football games whenever the home team would score a touchdown a canon was fired. This was quickly followed by the band playing Dixie. The sad irony was that the player scoring the touchdown was usually black. The first line of the song says, "I wish I was in the land of cotton." A black woman standing next to my wife at a game told us that she very much does not wish she was back in the land of cotton.

As followers of Christ we must be willing to surrender any and all rights for the sake of the gospel. Jesus gave up his life for the gospel. The least we Christians can do in the South is not fly a flag that offends millions of people.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Courtship Anyone?

Many years ago my wife Alice and I decided that our children weren't going to do the "dating thing." We'd seen far too much heartache come from dating and wanted to save our kids from this. At the time it was an easy decision; our children were very young.

Fast forward to the present. Our older daughter is now nineteen. I still don't know where the years went. Regardless, she likes a young man and he likes her. He is one of the few non-troll twenty-year-old males in the Savannah area. If he had shown any troll-like tendencies, he'd already be long gone. Amazingly, I actually like him.

They began as friends. After it became clear to all involved that this was more than friendship, Alice and I sat them down to discuss parameters going forward. Basically, we told them that they weren't going to date by modern standards. This was no surprise to our daughter, but it may have shocked the young man a little. Instead of dating, they would be courting. It was that way or no way.

The key to courting is that it has the possibility of marriage as an end goal. It's not just for amusement. It has long-term implications, not simply present time fun. I wondered if the word "marriage" would scare him off. It didn't. Good for him.

For clarification, two people who are courting will not necessarily get married. It might not work out for various reasons. However, that possibility is in place, is discussed, and is a goal. On the other hand, dating is temporal.

Like most things in life, courting can take various forms. I've seen some courtships that seemed too restrictive to me. I've looked at others and wondered how it was any different from dating. I hope Alice and I have hit an appropriate middle point.

Five solid reasons for courting come to mind. Some of these could apply to dating as well, but courting makes it much more feasible:

1. Courting lets everyone get to know everyone. One of the main places our daughter sees her boyfriend (we agreed that "boyfriend" was an acceptable term) is in our living room. We get to see him, too. We don't hover (at least not all the time). Instead of going out on dates alone, they see each other in houses (ours or his family's) where people can spend time talking.

2. Courting takes things slowly. In our society the tendency is for young people to get attached very quickly. Courtship, on the other hand, allows things to progress more slowly and naturally. This is good because if things don't work out (marriage), then the parties involved won't get as hurt.

3. Courting allows for expectations to be made clear. This one can apply easily to dating as well. The parents and the young people can discuss what is involved and what is not. There will be no confusion.

4. Courting gives opportunity for discipleship. Since much of the activity takes place in the home, there is time for discipleship to take place. This can take many different forms, but the end goal is that both young people grow closer to Christ. Actually, the goal is that everyone involved (including parents, siblings, etc.) grows closer to Christ.

5. Courting reduces temptation. Since the young people are together only when others are around, it automatically reduces temptation. When young people go out on dates alone, all sorts of things can happen. We want our children to avoid these types of situations. It will lead to less heartache going forward into marriage.

The word courtship tends to scare some people away. It brings up images of ultra-strict fundamentalist families who lock their daughters away until age twenty-five. I want nothing to do with that. Frankly, I'm not even hung up on using the word courtship. Alice and I choose to use it because it differentiates from today's dating practices.

It is God's decision whether or not he wants our children to get married. He obviously knows what is best for them. Alice and I want to help them reach adulthood with no regrets when it comes to relationships with the opposite sex. We also want to help them get to know and possibly marry other Christian young people.

So far, by the grace of God, things are going well in our family's first courtship. I praise God for that.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

25 Things That Will Occur in the American Church During the Next 25 Years

As I think about the church in this country, I am optimistic. That may seem surprising since a good number of my posts have a negative tone (I'm working on changing that). I'm optimistic for two reasons. First, the church belongs to Jesus Christ. He is going to accomplish his will for his church and nothing is going to hinder that. Second, Christendom is rapidly disintegrating. It's basically gone in Europe, and we're nearing the end in the USA. The church is always healthier when it doesn't have preferred status in secular society.

Over the next twenty-five years many changes will occur within the church in this country. For the most part those changes will, I believe, be for the better. The following is a list of twenty-five things we will see as we move forward. The list is a mix of positive and negative, and is in no particular order:

1. Churches will get bigger (mega-churches) and smaller (simple churches).

2. Church attendance will decline.

3. More and more Christians will not attend anywhere.

4. Christians will increasingly search for real, meaningful relationships.

5. For an increasing number of believers, relationships will trump doctrine.

6. The gospel will be viewed as primary, with other doctrines taking on less and less importance.

7. Women will play an ever increasing and important role in the life of the church.

8. The definition of discipleship will shift from head knowledge to obedience.

9. Persecution will increase; religious liberty will continue to erode.

10. Churches will become more and more technology-driven.

11. Because of cost the USA will send fewer missionaries overseas.

12. American churches will fund an increasing number of national missionaries in their home countries.

13. More missionaries from other countries will come to the USA.

14. Denominational lines will blur.

15. Numerous seminaries will close; those remaining will grow larger.

16. Clergy will decrease in significance, while the laity rises.

17. More and more paid pastors will become bi-vocational.

18. The Republican Party will distance itself from conservative Christians.

19. Churches will lose financial breaks from the government.

20. False teaching will increase.

21. Churches will gather in increasingly non-traditional locations.

22. Good works will increase.

23. Churches will increasingly care more for the poor and needy.

24. Churches will become more and more ethnically diverse.

25. Unity within the Christ's church as a whole will increase significantly.

What do you think? Am I wrong about anything? Did I leave anything out?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blogging the Truth in Love

It's fairly easy to blog about the truth. It's also fairly easy to blog in a loving manner. The challenge is to blog about the truth in loving manner.

In Ephesians chapter 4 we run into that famous little phrase, "speaking the truth in love." (Click here to read it in context.) Speaking is a form of communication that has potential to build up and tear down. Blogging, in our electronic age, is much the same as speaking. We convey messages. We send information out for all to see. We either build up or we tear down.

Ephesians 4 applies to blogging just as much as it does to speaking.

How, then, can we follow the Ephesians 4 principle for communication when it comes to blogging? We could take the easy way out and just stop blogging about anything of significance. This, however, misses the point. Paul didn't tell us to stop speaking the truth. We should be able to blog about important issues in a loving manner. Even when it comes to controversial and often emotional topics (such as the church), we Christian bloggers must find a way to write in a compassionate, caring manner.

How can we do this? Let me make a suggestion.

I suggest looking to scripture as a model for how to deal with tough issues.  Look at how Jesus talked. Look at how the writers of the epistles wrote. Jesus and the biblical writers all communicated about difficult issues but did so in a respectful, loving manner. Two of Paul's letters stand out as prime examples. First, Paul directly but lovingly challenged the Galatians about their understanding of the true gospel. Several years later Paul wrote to the Philippian church due to their problem with disunity. In that epistle Paul goes so far as to call out by name two ladies who were involved in the problem. Despite this, Paul still does it in such a way that his message comes across as a loving one.

This is how we must blog. Especially when we are discussing the things of God, we have no choice but to write about the truth lovingly. This is, of course, easy to do when we are talking about things we like and/or agree with. I could easily and lovingly write for hours about simple church concepts, ideas, forms, practices, etc. I have a much harder time writing in a loving way about things I don't believe in. In particular, it is tough to lovingly and gracefully blog about institutional church ways of doing things. Despite the challenge, there is no option.

When blogging on church issues, it is important that we remember that all believers are part of the one body of Christ. This means that the One who unites us is greater than anything that divides us. Therefore, when writing about the institution we must recall that we are writing about our brothers and sisters in Christ. We've been repeatedly charged in scripture to speak words that build up. Blogging has the power to do this.

The Ephesians 4 passage is ultimately about edification and Christian maturity. Our goal as Christian bloggers can and should be to build up the body through our writing. We must find a way to discuss difficult issues in a manner that is gracious, loving, and edifying. If we cannot do this, we should stop blogging.

So let's talk about tough issues. Let's discuss what we don't agree upon. Let's sort through all kinds of church related stuff. And let's do it in a gracious, caring, loving manner that displays our unity as God's family.